Robin Unrau is a lifelong hunter and angler who spent his childhood outdoors in Kaslo, British Columbia. His family hunted, fished, hiked, chopped firewood, and picked mushrooms and huckleberries.
“I was fortunate to grow up there and have a dad who took us out a lot. Hunting-gathering is what we grew up doing. I know a lot about the area and how sensitive it is,” says Robin.
One of his fondest memories was trying to keep up with his dad when they went hunting together.
“When you’re little and have little legs, you grow tired quicker than an adult.”
In 1990, Robin left the Kootenays and worked in many careers: guiding across Western Canada, forestry, construction, home building, and renovations. He now works in a mine in northwest BC while making his life with his wife in Summerland. He has stayed connected to the Kootenays.
“I still come out every chance I get to hunt, fish, and visit.”
Since his childhood, things are different in the Kootenays, says Robin.
“The landscape has changed enormously.”
One change that touched him deeply was the loss of the southern Selkirk Caribou herd.
“We saw them when we were younger. The last time I caught a glimpse of the herd was 2007 or 2008, eight or ten animals were close to the highway, near the Salmo, Creston summit. It was exhilarating. That was the last Selkirk caribou that I ever saw.”
The last caribou of the herd was relocated to Revelstoke in 2019. It saddened Robin.
“Caribou in the Kootenays are just about gone completely. Habitat loss has played a massive role (partially due to) recreation. Hunters are not immune. It’s recreation; backcountry use, motor vehicles, snowmobiling, motorcycle and ATV clubs, skiers; we all play a role in backcountry use.”
Robin wonders if other factors are at play.
“We’re seeing warmer weather patterns than we did when we were children. Caribou are very well adapted to a cold winter with lots of snow, and that’s how they survive. It was our failure as a people not to recognize how much trouble they were in.”
Robin’s investment in defending nature is personal.
“I logged for twenty years, so I have this overwhelming responsibility.”
This was a very important job for him, but he has mixed feelings.
“I can’t say that I feel guilty, but I do feel shame for believing that the backcountry was protected by legislation on what we could get away with and what we would do to restore (the land). Companies are not complying with the rules, and the provincial government has not set a standard that would allow for habitat replenishment, watershed protection, and backcountry access. There has been no accountability; it’s been all profits. I’m sad.”
Sometimes, Robin admits he feels upset, especially when he goes onto Google Earth’s timelapse function which allows a person to look at how an area has changed over time.
“Anger comes if I take a short journey on Google Earth. I look closely at habitat loss, road densities, and an overwhelming removal of our natural resources.”
Hunting for Hope
Four years ago, Robin’s anger fueled his decision to take action on habitat loss. He wanted to voice his concerns and create a group with like-minded folks. Hunters for BC was born.
“The idea came to my head, and I pitched it to some close friends. It took a couple of years to put the right people in place. Now we have directors and members province-wide. It’s been a challenge; it’s been good.”
For the past two and half years, Robin has stayed “way too busy” volunteering in his role as President of the Board of Directors of Hunters for BC, a chapter of Safari Club International in Western Canada.
“We’re definitely a very conservative group,” says Robin. “We recognize that as hunters, we are consumers of wildlife. That does not mean we should not advocate for their conservation or success. Some people will call it a catch twenty-two but in the history of North America, some of the greatest conservationists have been hunters.”
The group works to actively promote, support and advocate for responsible conservation and management of BC’s wildlife and natural resources.
One significant issue for Hunters for BC is a proposal currently under provincial review for Zincton, a large-scale resort development in the Central Selkirk mountains between New Denver and Kaslo.
Playing Too Hard in the Backcountry
Robin’s concerns about the Zincton resort development are personal because he knows the land so well.
“When I first looked at the Zincton proposal by the developer, too many alarms went off in my head to not want to advocate for wildlife and habitat. They’re talking about a lodge at the top of London Ridge, which is extremely fragile alpine habitat for critical plants, western toads, grizzlies, mule deer, goats, elk.”
The impact of the fifty-five hectare resort would be immense, Robin says.
“It will critically impact a very important wildlife corridor connecting the Slocan, Valhalla region to the Kootenay Lake region. It is a corridor used by all wildlife in that area. People will greatly impact the wildlife using that corridor with a village, extreme traffic on the highway, water usage, backcountry usage, and access to ski lifts.”
It’s tough for Robin to imagine this resort development being approved.
“If the Zincton proposal moves forward I would seriously question our provincial government’s approval process and question the decision. I would be disappointed and bewildered. It would also leave many of us wondering if we had done enough to bring awareness to the problems facing our wildlife in the province.”
Keep Your Eye on the Ridge
Robin remains optimistic that people will come together to stop the Zincton resort development proposal from moving forward.
“I am hopeful that it won’t go through. A very thorough and independent impact analysis needs to be made to make everyone aware of what’s at stake and what will happen when developers get what they want. They also had a similar proposal in the Jumbo pass, which connects the West and East Kootenays, and people started to realize, ‘Hey, we’re running out of special places, let’s keep them special.’”
He is not against more access to high-quality skiing, he just wants us to be careful.
“People want easier access to recreation; I understand that. I’m not a skier, but I get why it would be nice to have a ski hill in my backyard. Let’s put our ski hills where the impact is least.”
Hunters for BC is pushing for more regulation to defend places like the White Water mountain, creek and canyon, and London Ridge.
“Let’s look closely here because you can’t take it back once it’s done. A lot of developers will say, ‘Okay, we’ll downgrade to a minimalistic type of landscape interference’ and then ten years down the road, all of a sudden there’s applications in to expand their activities. The whole application and review program in the province should be revised where they say, ‘Let’s really really think this through before we put our signature at the bottom of the page.”
Robin has connected with people and groups who want to protect the White Water mountain area. Coming together is how the group is making headway, Robin says.
“We’ve found common ground with a lot of people that aren’t interested or don’t participate in hunting and fishing, so it’s been a fantastic way for us to reach out to people who do things or see things differently. It’s been really good.”
Robin stays hopeful by continuing the dialogue.
“Having conversations is probably the most important thing we can do. We have to be truthful. Let’s just present the facts. Sugar coating issues isn’t going to help heal the province.”
Learning from the past is crucial, says Robin.
“Let’s have a look at the habitat we used to have and the habitat we have now and see where we could have done better, and by doing that, we will forge a path ahead not repeating mistakes.”
He thinks we need to do some things differently to keep the natural beauty of BC.
“In some areas, let’s just keep it to our hiking boots. We have what I call limitless access to the backcountry now. Let’s start limiting it a little bit.”